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In the United States alone, about 10,000 people each year are diagnosed with a life-threatening illness for which a stem cell transplant is the best treatment option. The most common such illnesses are leukemia and lymphoma. Most of us know somebody who has had at least one of these: I have a friend who survived leukemia, and a close relative who did not.
To perform a stem cell transplant, a donor is needed. Bone marrow is extracted from the donor, which is then used to provide the stem cells. The most difficult part of this is finding a suitable donor. They must be a genetic match, and such matches are exceedingly hard to find.
The National Marrow Donor Program maintains a genetic database that’s searched whenever someone needs such a transplant. Unfortunately, these searches often fail to find a match, and all too often, a patient dies who might have been helped had a donor been matched.
Almost anyone can easily be added to this life-saving database, and it takes just a few minutes of your time. I did it this week, and I wanted to share with you how easy it is, and encourage you to do the same.
They will happily send you a little kit, free of charge, once you give them your address. The kit arrives in your mail, encoded with barcodes for your privacy. It consists of four cotton swabs, and all you have to do is rub the inside of your mouth with each. You place the swabs back into the provided holder, seal the postage-free envelope, and drop it in the mail. You’re done. It’s incredibly easy, and will be the feel-good highlight of your month.
About 1 in every 540 people who submit samples ends up being asked to donate. If you are fortunate enough to be matched with a patient whom you can help, the rewards speak for themselves.
If you have any questions at all about bone marrow donation, the program has an excellent page answering all the frequently asked questions.